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How to Conquer Negative Self-Talk As You Age

  • Dawn Wilson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2020 26 Jun
How to Conquer Negative Self-Talk As You Age

The stereotype of the grumpy old person on greeting cards might make us smile, but the Christian who expresses negativity is not appealing. Negativity reveals a negative-focused mindset, and it can ooze out of us to infect others. It all begins with our thoughts, and our self-talk can shape us for health or harm.

Pessimistic, defeatist self-talk is the chatter that negatively influences our attitudes and behavior. This internal monologue is an inner critic—opinionated and unproductive. It’s a nagging voice in our head that prevents us from moving forward in faith and obedience.

Negative pitfalls in the mind may be hidden and sometimes subtle, but what we say to ourselves based on those thoughts will carve out dangerous ruts. Here are six steps to conquer your inner critic:

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  • senior woman peacefully writing in journal

    1. Identify Negative Self-Talk

    What people think about as they grow older can actually age their bodies. According to one source, “negative thoughts can lead to premature cell death—and that equals aging.” Ruminating on negative thoughts can lead to negative self-talk, and eventually, to negative body responses.

    To be aware of negative self-talk, we need to examine our internalized thoughts and beliefs. It’s helpful to write down what we are thinking. Don’t edit those words—see them for what they are. Negative thought patterns will likely emerge if we do this for a few weeks.

    As your inner critic speaks to you, and then the Holy Spirit, name any lies you currently believe about yourself. Recognize that Satan is a liar and he wants to destroy you (John 8:44; 1 Peter 5:8). Confront lies when tempted to use them again, and take your thoughts captive to obey the Lord. (Colossians 2:8; 2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

    Some of the signs of a negative, unhealthy inner monologue include:

    - thinking about losses and frustrations

    - becoming upset by our inability to change things

    - taking to heart things that are beyond our control

    - thinking everything is our fault

    - dwelling on inadequacies

    - always thinking “the other shoe will drop”

    - calling ourselves names 

    Negative self-talk might focus on the past—what was and what can’t be changed. This is often accompanied by depression. On the other hand, negative self-talk might haunt us as we become anxious about the future and develop a fatalistic perspective. The Bible warns about that in Matthew 6:34.

    Not all thoughts about the past or future are negative, however. We can revisit past negative experiences and look for helpful lessons or reasons to be grateful; and remember past positive experiences to help us incorporate a new narrative into current circumstances. And we can ask God to give us a vision for how He can use us in the future, even as we age.

    The healthiest self-talk focus is on the present—taking life day by day, hand in hand with the Father—reserving mental energy to help us speak truth to ourselves and wisely “seize the day.” We can retrain ourselves to see what is valuable for now and eternity, and learn to appreciate and cherish these things in the moment.

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  • senior couple laughing together

    2. Define Positive Self-Talk

    As we age, we might become frustrated with circumstances, and frustration may lead to unhealthy stress. The Mayo Clinic says positive self-talk can help reduce stress. “Positive thinking doesn’t mean that you keep your head in the sand and ignore life’s less-pleasant situations,” writes the clinic staff. “Positive thinking just means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way.”

    What does positive self-talk look like? It’s realistic, constructive, helpful, beneficial, hopeful, and optimistic. The Christian perspective on positive thinking is found in Philippians 4:6-8: “Don’t be anxious … whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” We’re to let God’s peace reign in our lives and purposely choose to fill our thoughts with things that can help us sidestep negativity.

    Tone of voice also matters. What is our attitude when we speak to ourselves? Colossians 3:15-16 offers an attitude check: Are we at peace, thankful and grateful in our hearts? This too can lead to more positive self-talk as we age.

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  • beautiful senior woman happy dancing

    3. Construct a New Narrative

    To modify our thinking, we need to talk back to ourselves. Psychology researchers suggest we might speak to ourselves in the third person. In other words, we use our own name to offer ourselves advice or give ourselves a pep talk. This is helpful, because we tend to be kinder to others than we are to ourselves.

    This simple verbal adjustment—third-person self-talk—is more like receiving wise counsel from a good friend. For example, when I say, “Dawn, Psalm 139:14 says you are wonderfully made, so stop being so critical about your body,” it’s much more powerful than, “I have such big feet!”

    We also need to construct a new narrative with a godly perspective. For the Christ-follower, positive and healthy self-talk includes wise use of Scriptures to speak truth to lies. Author and revival speaker Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, calls this “counseling our hearts” with the Word of God. “We should not be controlled by our circumstances or our emotions,” Nancy says, “but we need to counsel our hearts according to truth.”

    The Word of God challenges, encourages and builds up rather than impeding or obstructing growth. It’s in our power to choose self-talk that we help rather than hinder our lives. Rather than magnifying what we see as weaknesses, we can seek out the good that God’s grace is creating in us and how He is working in and through in our circumstances. As we surrender to and keep in step with the Holy Spirit’s control, He helps us construct a new narrative that bears life-building fruit (Galatians 5:16, Galatians 5:22-23, Galatians 5:25).

    One problem with negative self-talk is the tendency to view life through all-or-nothing thinking. With many experiences behind us as we age, we tend to multiply negativity through overgeneralization. A sure sign we’re caught up in this problem is the use of words like “never” and “always.” If our self-talk is a conversation, we can determine to not say anything to ourselves that we wouldn’t say to others. Our goal in this inner conversation is to be honest, encouraging, kind, gentle, and grateful.

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  • happy active senior couple rollerblades

    4. Embrace Your Aging

    Some aspects of aging are simply humiliating and hard to face; but it doesn’t help us cope when we gripe and complain. Other parts of aging simply require compensation, or adapting with new coping skills. If we are going to embrace our aging and stay encouraged—in spite of new difficulties—we need to check our self-talk. Positive self-talk is crucial to cultivating a healthy growth perspective. 

    As our bodies slow down, we may need to reframe our self-talk to help us feel more productive and encourage enthusiasm for more projects. As we age, we may find more time and motivation to pursue new hobbies and skills, but as we learn and grow, we may need to pace ourselves. What once took us an hour may take half a day or longer. But what’s the rush?

    Instead of being hyper-critical, which can cause shame and perceived failure, we can choose to focus on what we can learn in a difficult situation and better prepare for the future. 

    Also, rather than grumbling over circumstances and ruminating on negative thoughts, it helps to laugh and not take ourselves so seriously. A cheerful heart can heal, and laughing at ourselves and at life can help us calm down our stresses and tackle problems with fresh reserves. 

    With aging in a Scripture-based perspective, we can become wise mentors for others (Titus 2:2-5; Job 12:12; Job 32:7). We will continue to flourish and produce good fruit. And we can continue to teach the next generation about God’s power and greatness.

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  • two active senior couples laughing outdoors

    5. Work toward Whole-Self Solutions

    Clearly, self-talk can be affected by our thoughts, but also our emotions, body, and walk with God. We can make choices to boost our moods with encouraging music and programming.

    We can choose a healthy lifestyle using tailor-made exercise—even if we have limitations—and a healthy diet can fuel our brain and body.

    Mentally, we can study how to substitute positive words for negative ones. For example, instead of saying, “There’s no way this can work,” we might say, “I’m going to try hard to make this work.” Or, instead of “No one wants to talk to me anymore,” say, “I am going to try to open up some new conversations today.” Such words call us to positive actions.

    The Mayo Clinic lists health benefits for positive, cheerful thinking and self-talk: increased life span, lower rates of depression, lower levels of distress, greater resistance to the common cold, better psychological and physical well-being, better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and better coping skills during hardships and times of stress.

    Over our lifetime, God wants us to reflect the life of Christ who grew from childhood in various areas of His life (Luke 2:52)—a whole-life solution to developing a perspective that honors the Father. Our self-talk often reveals a specific area of life that needs change.

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  • senior man hugging other senior man mentor

    6. Seek Out Positive Role Models

    To help us embrace rather than deny aging, it’s encouraging to seek out positive role models. Who is a worthy model to imitate? Proverbs 13:20 says when we walk with wise people, we can become wise. By seeing how other elderly people have overcome their challenges and developed positivity, we can be motivated by their examples. Our self-talk can become more positive as we follow their lead.

    Look for and rub shoulders with senior role models who push through difficulties to pursue new goals, knowing God still has work for them to do. Look for role models who guard their tongue and use uplifting speech. Seek out positive older leaders and mentors (Titus 2:7-8), and observe those who show and express love in multiple ways. Consider how their mindset might affect their self-talk, and in turn their attitudes and behavior.

    Study the encouraging, hope-filled words of Paul to the congregations in Philippi, Colossae, and Ephesus. Also, remember that—though Jesus never became “elderly” while on earth—our Lord was the perfect role model for godly thinking as we age. Can you imagine His self-talk? As we age, it’s wise to focus on being more like our Savior—following His example—if we want to sidestep the pitfalls of negative self-talk.

    Related Articles:

    5 Simple Ways to Take Your Anxious Thoughts Captive

    8 Facts about Satan You Need to Know

    5 Reasons Looking Back Is So Empowering

    6 Ways to Invite the Peace of Christ to Rule in Your Heart

    5 Ways to Enjoy the Life-Giving Power of Gratitude

    12 Bible Characters Who Did Great Things for God in Their Old Age

    5 Proven Ideas to Power-Boost Your Gratitude

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    Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com and Christianity.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach.